How do we live together in diversity? A place-based perspective on the role of contact and professionals in fostering intercultural relations
Rising levels of international migration have increased the importance of understanding how we positively live together in ethno-cultural diversity. Contact is often assumed to improve intercultural relations, both by scholars and policy makers. This belief is rooted in contact theory, which states that contact can lower prejudices. One important factor that is often overlooked herein is the influence of the place of contact. A gap that is increasingly filled by geography of encounter scholars who investigate contact experiences in different places of everyday life. Inspired by these strands of theory, this PhD takes a place-based perspective to investigate the role of contact and professionals in facilitating intercultural relations. Place can influence both the nature and the outcome of contact. Various places are studied, but a particular interest was taken into places in which contact is regulated by one or more professionals.
There were three different waves of data collection. In-depth interviews on contact and diversity were conducted with a diverse group of people. This provides insight into the contact experiences of individuals in different places of everyday life and intercultural learning processes as an outcome of the contact. The second part involved case studies on two workplaces and two youth organisations. These case studies were conducted as part of a large interdisciplinary project on solidarity in diversity. Data collection included interviews, participatory observations and document analysis. In this PhD the workplaces are compared in order to understand how solidarity in diversity develops at the work floor. The data of the youth organisations illustrate how these organisations deal with diversity and how they use place in their diversity strategies. The final part of data collection is an action research initiative specifically set up to improve interethnic relations. People of two ethnic groups were brought together over a period of time in light of a football competition and a latrine digging exercise. Behavioural and attitudinal changes were identified through structured questionnaires and in-depth interviews.
Results underline the importance of intercultural contact. Both type and outcome of contact are influenced by place. Although most positive outcomes come from (somewhat) forced, repeated contact in institutionalised places, all types of places can make a positive contribution to enhancing positive relations and it is therefore important to stimulate contact in various places. Furthermore, it was found that the context in which contact takes place is very important. Contact mainly results in positive outcomes when it arises in a place that is inclusive of diversity. Professionals can play a major role in this by shaping and maintaining a positive diversity climate in which a conscious effort is made to re-think norms, values and traditions in order to tackle inequalities, discrimination and exclusion.